Students at New College in Sarasota, Florida, held demonstrations against Governor Ron DeSantis’ signing of S.B. 266, a bill that restricts colleges and universities from using state or federal funds for programs related to political or social activism and diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI). The governor argues that such initiatives can lead to discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination. Critics fear that the bill will hinder efforts to attract students and faculty and limit classes addressing issues like gender inequity, LGBTQ+ discrimination, and racial injustice.
Under the new measure, state officials are empowered to review core curriculum classes at universities to identify theories that assert systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege in the United States. If such content is found, it can be removed, altered, or expanded to exclude those ideas. During the signing of the bill, the student protest outside the building could be heard, leading DeSantis to express disappointment and expecting more opposition.
Protesters held signs with messages such as “Hands off our faculty,” “Fascists are not welcome,” and “What happened to freedom of expression?” They vowed to resist DeSantis’ efforts to impose conservative values on state schools. Critics argue that the law infringes on academic freedom, imposes government-approved viewpoints on colleges, may drive talented educators and students away from Florida’s universities, and could even lead to the loss of national accreditation for some institutions that require DEI programs as an essential part of higher education.
DeSantis defended the newly enacted measure, stating that DEI has been used as a cover to enforce an ideological agenda, which he finds unacceptable. He suggested that those interested in studying gender ideology should go to universities like Berkeley, implying that public funds should not be used for such purposes without restrictions.
Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida, criticized the governor’s actions, emphasizing that they involve viewpoint discrimination, undermining constitutional rights, compelling speech from students and faculty, and censoring ideas that are disagreed with.
The new law aligns with DeSantis’ broader efforts to reshape Florida’s education system to promote conservative values. In January, he appointed Christopher Rufo, a far-right anti-LGBTQ+ extremist, to the board of trustees of New College of Florida. This move raised concerns as the institution had previously been recognized for its progressive and queer-friendly environment. Rufo stated that the board would initiate a “top-down restructuring” of the school, including the development of a new core curriculum.
In 2022, DeSantis also signed the “Stop WOKE Act,” which prohibits instructional programs on racism and gender-based discrimination in schools and businesses. The implementation of the law is currently on hold while a judge assesses its impact on freedom of expression, which is constitutionally protected.
Federal Judge Mark E. Walker, who previously blocked the Stop WOKE Act, criticized the legislation, describing it as “positively dystopian” and highlighting how it restricts professors from expressing certain viewpoints while allowing the unrestricted expression of opposing views. Walker pointed out that professors are only granted “academic freedom” as long as they conform to the viewpoints approved by the state, undermining intellectual diversity and academic discourse.